An Astonishing Report
Text: Matthew 28 : 1 - 20
The terrified soldiers fled the scene and ran for their lives! They could face any human enemy, but they did not know how to fight enemies who caused such terror to arise in their hearts. The appearance of the two men, all clothed in the glowing white – their very presence just brought a sense of terror they had never felt before! With the greatest ease they moved the stone that covered the mouth of the tomb! How does one fight enemies with such power? And these two men were not even armed! As fast as their legs could carry them, the soldiers ran to the chief priests. They would not dare to run to Pilate, for they would have been arrested and possibly executed for their cowardice!
“Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard
came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things
that had happened.”
The deepest fears of the chief priests arose as they listened to the soldiers who reported what they had just experienced! The tale these soldiers had to tell was absolutely astonishing! The tomb was empty! Jesus had disappeared! They may not have been able to use the word “resurrected” to describe what had happened!
Once again, the chief priests went into a huddle to discuss how they were going to deal with the problem of the disappearance of the body of Jesus from the garden tomb!
“When they had assembled with the elders and
consulted together, they gave a large sum of money
to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night
and stole Him away while we slept.”
And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him
and make you secure.’ So they took the money and did as
they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported
among the Jews until this day.”
1. No turning back
The chief priests and the elders had gone to great lengths to incriminate Jesus and to plan for His death. Having gone that far, their decision to put a spin on the story of the empty tomb was “nothing”.
There was no turning back now. They must continue to deny whatever their senses warned them. They refused to admit that they were wrong. They refused to consider all the teachings, and now the evidence of the resurrection. Their minds and hearts were entirely closed. As far as Jesus was concerned He was now a non-issue! There was no turning back!
It is sometimes said, “Every man has a price”. The soldiers, having recovered from their fright, were easily inveigled to accept the large sum of money given to them by the chief priests.
They did not fully understand just why the chief priests would go to this length to put a spin on their story. But they did not care very much either. The large sum of money would come in handy, if they were to decide that they had enough of army life.
3. What about the Governor?
The soldiers had every reason to fear the wrath of the governor. They were soldiers. They knew the penalty of losing “a prisoner” that had been entrusted to their safe-keeping. Would that same rule apply to a dead prisoner? Would they be sent to prison for sleeping on their jobs? If the governor was in a foul mood, he could even order their execution!
The chief priests assured the soldiers that they had nothing to fear. They would speak on their behalf to the governor. They would make sure that no punishment would be meted out against them.
4. The official story line
The soldiers would tell anyone and everyone the story that the chief priests and elders had just concocted. The canard would be, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept” (Matthew 28:13).
There were obvious flaws in this story-line. Let us consider just two of them:-
1. The very idea of stealing a body from under the nose of the Roman guards
This idea was laughable! This was unimaginable! The disciples would have to pick the exact hour for all the soldiers to fall asleep! They would have to roll the huge stone away so silently, they would not awaken the sleeping soldiers. They must have been heavy sleepers to hear nothing!
2. The appearances of the Risen Jesus
Jesus had begun to appear to different groups of people. The number of people who claimed to have seen Him was growing too. The very fact that Jesus had appeared to so many people was something that could not be easily refuted!
AN UNFORTUNATE DEVELOPMENT
The chief priests and elders must have worked very hard to ensure that this story-line was well publicized. Given their resources and the means available to disseminate their lies, many were taken in by them. Matthew had to record honestly that the story about the disciples stealing away the body of Jesus was generally believed by many! That saying was “commonly reported among the Jews until this day”!